SPF: Reality Bites

SPF 08-19-18 Anurag 2
Photo (c) Anurag Bakshi

SPF: Reality Bites

Words 101

Amidst thunderous applause Kali walked up to the dais to receive her award from the President of India. Not just a wife and mother, she was a woman of substance – of the likes of Madame Curie. Pride and exultation filled her as she surveyed her family cheering and clapping until their throats and hands were sore.

“Wonderful groundbreaking work Madam,” the interviewer gushed. “You are truly an inspiration for all women and we are extremely proud of you.”

“Thank you.” Kali said modestly.

“Tell us Madam who was your inspiration on this long and difficult journey in a male dominated field?”

“My inspiration?” Kali laughed. “Everyone!”

“That’s interesting. Could you elaborate please?”

“I was named Kali because I was dark. I was also given other names because I was fat and short.” Kali shrugged. “Rejected by suitors and reviled by society I turned to my first love, academics.” Kali smiled. “So here I am.”

“What about your husband?”

“He’s been a pillar of strength all throughout. He took care of home and children while I slaved away in the laboratory…”

 

“How long does it take to make a cup of tea?” A querulous voice demanded.

“Coming.” Kali switched off the gas.

***

Written (after a long time!) for the Sunday Photo Fiction – a story in 200 words or less. Thanks to Susan for hosting the challenge and Anurag for the awesome photo prompt. To read the other stories inspired by this prompt click here.

 

 

FFfAW: Achilles Heels

photo-20180730154706912
Photo (c) Yinglan

Achilles Heels

“Flowers? I hate flowers.”

“But…but all girls like flowers.

“And that is your first mistake. I am not ‘all girls’. Besides I am allergic to flowers.

“I am sorry. Next time I will get chocolates.”

“Chocolates are very fattening. They give me a migraine too.

“Umm so what should I get?”

“Why should you get something for me? What do you want in return?

“Me? Nothing. I was just…”

“Just what?”

“Why are you so suspicious?”

“Because no one ever does anything just like that?”

“You are such a cynic.”

“Yeah so? Got a problem with that? I didn’t ask you to stay.”

“Fine I am leaving.”

“Good riddance…”

“I heard that. And just for that I am not leaving.”

“You were looking for an excuse weren’t you? Why do you put up with me?”

“I also wonder. You are one the most annoying persons I have met.”

“I did warn you that I am a very difficult person.”

“One whom I cannot live without.”

“What do you know?”

“Let’s go shopping.”

“Shopping? I don’t much care…”

“Shoe shopping.”

“Shoes?”

“Yes.”

“I don’t need shoes.”

“Okay.”

“Well maybe I could just look at them.”

***

Written for FFfAW challenge – a story in 175 words or less (I confess to overshooting the mark this week to 194 words 😦 ). Thanks to Priceless Joy for hosting this challenge and Yinglan for the beautiful photo. To read the other stories inspired by this prompt click here.

FFfAW: The Pick-me-up

photo-20180716154602260

The Pick-me-up

Words 175

“Come for a walk?” Reema was at the door. “Please! I need to vent.”

“Sure.” Dia shut the door behind her. “Yikes it is hot!” she gasped.

“I know,” Reema agreed, “But I simply had to get out.”

“What happened?”

“It’s every damn thing,” Reema groaned, “and the weather isn’t helping. I have an office deadline, college cut offs and admissions are giving us sleepless nights and on top of it, my father-in-law.”

“What’s he done?”

“He has begun to invite random people home.” Reema groaned. “We’ve guests for dinner and lunch.”

“Just make twice the amount.”

“One batch is pure vegetarian.”

“Oops!”

“Exactly.” Reema sighed. “But there’s one good thing.”

“What?” Dia wiped her brow.

“I don’t dread Hell anymore.”

“Right. It couldn’t be hotter than the kitchen.”

They laughed.

“I guess I better get back.” They traced their steps back. “I can see another crisis looming.”

“What?”

“The husband has a cold.”

“Oh no!” Dia commiserated. “Poor you.”

“Thanks for the shoulder.” Reema grinned.

“Anytime.” Dia winked. “But remember, it’s my turn tomorrow.”

***

Written for the FFfAW challenge – a story in 175 words or less. Thanks to Priceless Joy for hosting the challenge and I am happy to have managed to rise to the challenge this week. Successfully or not, is up to you to decide! To read the other stories inspired by this prompt click here.

Sonu aur Titu ki Lovely – IV

Links to the previous parts are here:

Chapter 1: A Lovely Noose

Chapter 2: A Lovely Surprise

Chapter 3: A Lovely Story

Chapter 4 The Unfinished Story

Sonu stood outside the nondescript door in a modest locality and hesitated. What was he doing here? You are here to maintain facades, he told himself sternly. But why you? Titu should be here, he’s the one who is ‘supposed’ to marry her?

But Titu had refused outright. “Let’s not get carried away with this charade okay? She wants to play pretend-to-marry-me because she wants to study undisturbed right?”

Sonu had reluctantly nodded his head.

“So how’s my landing up going to help her in her goal?”

“But her Aunt and Uncle will suspect something is amiss if you guys don’t meet up frequently.” Sonu said.

“Fine!” Titu gave in, “You arrange a meeting with her. Call her up, meet her, do whatever. Just don’t ask me to meet her to arrange a ‘for-show’ meeting.”

And here he was, outside her door, wondering rather belatedly what exactly her was doing here.

Oh yeah – to fix up a meeting with Titu.

You could have called her.

I did, remember? But she wasn’t there.

Yeah right. You could have texted her.

On her Chachi’s mobile?

You could have asked her for Lovely’s number?

What if Chachi doesn’t see text messages? Anyways I have to fix this asap as Titu is free only today.

Yeah right.

I don’t like what you are insinuating. Sonu firmly squashed that pesky nitpicker in his head and rang the bell.

There was crash, a scream and a yell. Before Sonu could bang on the door, it opened and a pair of arms wrapped around his waist and clung to him, “Save me Papa, save me!”

“Suriiiiii!” Hair flying Lovely came up at a run and stopped short as she saw who it was at the door. The animation in her eyes died down and a mask slid into place.

“Suri,” she disentangled the little girl and hissed, “Go inside. I’ll deal with you later,” she promised in a dire voice.

Embarrassed, Suri slunk away.

“Namaste.” She said formally while trying to gather her flying tresses and coax them into a bun. “Please sit.” She said decorously. “Did you have some work with Chacha Chachi? I am sorry they are out and will be late. I’ll get some water.” She turned away.

“No!” Sonu stopped her. “I don’t want water or tea or coffee,” he added hastily at her expression.

“But you must have something! I’ll get an earful otherwise.” She fretted.

“You can always tell them, we don’t eat anything from the to-be-bride’s house before the wedding.” He grinned at her.

“Why?” She sat down. “So that you can eat her head for the rest of her life?” He could swear he saw a dimple peep out.

“You are so quick!” He praised. “You deserve to be in the IAS!” He looked at her. “You aren’t wearing your spectacles.”

She looked away. “I…I am wearing my contacts.”

“Yet that day you wore your thick ugly spectacles?” He said softly. “And not just that, you armed yourself with a shapeless dress with an oversized dupatta and topped it with an oily hairdo.”

“I did hate making a spectacle of myself.” This time he clearly saw the dimple. She sighed “I thought of scaring you away with all the paraphernalia but since it Dadaji had made his intentions very clear I decided to change tactics and get some protected time till my exam.” Her eyes twinkled and her dimples were in full view.

Sonu blinked to clear the daze. “Didn’t your Aunt say anything?”

“Chachi is always too caught up in her make up to worry about me. Chachaji approved of my traditional appearance as did Dadi.” She seemed to clam up. “Let me get you a cold drink.”

On the verge of protesting, Sonu subsided. It would give him a reason to prolong his stay.

Now why would you want to do that?

Distracted by muffled giggles, he looked up. Two bright pairs of eyes were inspecting him from behind the curtains. He beckoned them.

Tripping, pushing and shoving they presented themselves. “And who may you be?” He asked with a smile.

“That’s Suri or Surabhi,” Lovely re-entered carrying a tray, “and that’s Lata, my cousins. Say Namaste and go in.” She ordered, offering the Coke to Sonu.

“We want to stay and talk to Jijaji.” Suri piped up.

Sonu choked and sputtered. Lovely offered him a couple of napkins. She glared at the two girls looking on avidly. “He’s not…go inside!” She jerked her head.

They shuffled away.

“You didn’t say why you came?” Lovely asked rather abruptly.

“To hear the rest of the story.”

“What story?” She frowned. Her brow cleared. “Oh that?”

“Yes that story. I am sure it didn’t end there did it?”

“No it didn’t.” A small smile played about her mouth. “She extracted her pound of flesh.”

“How? She spoke the truth? And they believed her?”

“You think anyone would believe a woman over a man? In those days? Even today, when it is his word against hers, his voice is louder isn’t it?” she looked at him with a sneer. “Even if she shouts herself hoarse from the rooftops.”

He brushed it away. “So what happened? I am genuinely curious.”

“You could have googled it.” At his look of chagrin and irritation, she yielded. “Okay fine, I’ll tell you just for the sheer pleasure of showing you the power of silence.”

Sonu looked at her puzzled. “Power of silence?”

Lovely raised a hand. “Patience! Chandra was put in jail and then began the hearings. Chidham and his lawyer friend fed her with lots of escape routes – say that Radha used to often fight with me, say that she attacked me, say that she tripped on the sickle, say that it was in self-defense – etc etc. Chandra was silent through these exhortations and meetings. When the judge asked her of any bad blood between her and Radha or whether it was in self-defense, she calmly refuted possibilities and accepted culpability of the crime. Chidham and Dukhiram were shocked. Unable to bear the guilt Dukhiram confessed the truth – he was hungry and she refused him food so he had killed her. Determined to save his brother, Chidham too jumped into the fray and said it was he not his brother Dukhiram who had killed Radha because she had refused him food.”

Sonu looked at Lovely with a resigned expression. “Too little too late eh?”

“Yeah. Sort of.” Lovely nodded and continued, “Naturally the judge was not convinced and convicted Chandra. She was awarded the death sentence.”

“The system isn’t fair.” Admitted Sonu, “but things are different now…”

“Is it?” queried Lovely. “Anyway to end the story, despite repeated pleas, Chandra refused to meet her husband even once before her death. When she was asked why, she said only one word,” she paused. “Maron or die, possibly the Bengali equivalent of rot in hell or even the F word…”

Sonu looked bewildered. “How…what does that mean?”

“Don’t you have any sensibility or sensitivity?” Lovely sighed in frustration. “By refusing to meet Chidham, by refusing to give him the scope to confess his guilt, sorrow and shame, she ‘punished’ Chidham.” Lovely’s eyes glowed. “She sentenced Chidham to lifelong guilt and shame one from which he would probably never be able to recover.”

Dazed, Sonu shook his head. “Women are so…so devious and complicated.”

“Men are not?”

“Nope.” Sonu shook his head.

“You are right.” Lovely gave a bitter laugh. “They have only one thing on their minds.” She got up. “I am sure you must be busy. Thank you for coming.”

“That’s not fair,” Sonu protested without getting up, “We don’t just have S.E.X on our minds.”

“And you proved it.” She mocked. “I wasn’t talking of that one thing.”

“Then what were you hinting at?” Challenged Sonu.

“I meant power, control and dominance.” Lovely’s eyes flashed. “Isn’t that what sex is all about?”

“No.” Sonu shook his head.

“There’s no point in continuing this conversation.” She was back to her wooden self. “Was there anything else?” she asked politely but pointedly.

“I would love to continue that conversation,” Sonu got to his feet, “But actually I came to ask if you were free to go out this evening?”

“Go out where?” She was suspicious. “With whom? Why…?”

“Whoa!” Sonu raised his hands as a shield. “Give me a break! Let me complete will you?”

Lovely shook her head. “I’m busy. I have to study.” She looked at her watch. “In any case, I wasted a lot of time today.” She gave him a scathing look.

Sonu laughed. “I, on the other hand had a most educative day. I have suddenly developed a very healthy respect and regard for women. Who knows how they may turn against you?”

“And men are so innocent and blameless.” She sneered.

“We are like that only.” Sonu wore a pious expression. “Anyway, I wont take up more of your time now, but will be back around 8 pm with Titu and go for a party.”

“I told you! I have to study. Besides, I don’t do parties.”

“Come on! Don’t be such a stick in the mud. You and Titu can get to know each…”

“Hey! Wait.” Lovely jumped in alarm. “Did you not get what I said the other day? I am NOT going through this marriage.” She cast a worried look around and lowered her voice. “So there is no point in getting to know Titu or anyone else.”

“Okay,” Sonu eased off and continued glibly, “I framed that incorrectly. What I meant was that we need to maintain appearances, otherwise our families will become suspicious. You do want to be free of matrimonial hassles until October don’t you?”

“And what’s in it for you?” She asked skeptical. “I cannot believe you are doing this for purely altruistic reasons.”

Exactly. What’s in it for you Sonu?

He shrugged. “I told you. I am like that only. Kind, considerate and every ready to help others.”

Before Lovely could protest, or worse, walk off her uncle and aunty entered. They gushed and fawned over Sonu until Lovely was ready to throw up. And he wasn’t even the groom she thought sourly.

“But of course you must go Lovely!” Aunty said. “It’s a wonderful opportunity to get to know your future life partner. Enjoy and cherish these moments.” She patted Sonu. “Thank you beta. She will go. Would you like some tea?” She asked all solicitous concern. “Coffee? Cold drink.”

“Thank you.” He escaped victorious yet avoiding meeting Lovely’s furious eyes with a trapped expression. “Lovely was most hospitable and made me feel very welcome.” His eyes danced as he met hers.

***

Click here for Chapter 5: A Lovely Dinner

 

Sonu aur Titu ki Lovely – III

If you’ve just joined the fun, perhaps you may like to read the previous two chapters first, otherwise feel free to scroll away 🙂

Click here for Chapter 1: A Lovely Noose

Click here for Chapter 2: A Lovely Surprise

Chapter 3: A Lovely Story

Sonu relaxed. He reached out and took a pakora. “So why did you agree to come today?”

“I had no choice.” Lovely shrugged. “When the offer came from your grandfather, everyone was ecstatic,” she paused, “even envious. It was as if I had won the Nobel Prize or something. And of course there was no question of refusing. That’s just the groom’s prerogative.”

Sonu was perplexed. Now that Titu was ‘safe’ from the clutches of yet another unsuitable not to mention unscrupulous manipulative witch, he focused on the girl and the mixed signals he was getting.

“You don’t want to marry Titu?” Sonu asked.

She shook her head.

“But you want us to play along for a while?” He wanted to be sure.

“Yes.”

“For how long?” Sonu’s bored into hers before they dropped.

“Until 15th October.”

The boys looked at each other puzzled. “Okay, look,” Sonu said, “this isn’t fair. You know everything about us while we know next to nothing about you. If you want us to play along, you better come clean and spill the beans. Otherwise…”

“Otherwise what?” Lovely challenged.

“Otherwise I will insist that you two get married next week.”

“Hey!” An alarmed Titu sat up straight. “Why make me the scapegoat?”

“Shush!” Sonu hushed him, “this isn’t about you. It is about her.” He turned to her. “Are you going to tell us or,” he looked suggestively towards the restaurant where the parents were laughing loudly and talking excitedly.

Lovely took off her glasses and rubbed her eyes. “Fair enough.” She nodded. “Here’s the thing. I want to join the civil services. My exams are in October and I don’t want repeated exhibitions for the purposes of finding a suitable groom and neither am I prepared to hear a million taunts for rejecting the best groom ever and far far beyond my station in society.”

“Oh.” They looked blankly at her. “You actually want to study?” Sonu’s voice dropped to a disbelieving whisper.

“Yes!” Her eyes sparkled bringing an attractive glow to her otherwise unremarkable face. “I love academics. I want to work, study, and be independent and answerable to only myself. At least in personal matters.”

“What if you don’t clear the exams?” Sonu drummed his fingers on the table. “They are very tough aren’t they?”

“Yes they are tough, especially so because I am working as a Probationary Officer at a bank. I hardly get any time to study. But I will get into civil services.” She wore a determined look. “If not this year then next year, or the next. No matter how many years it takes.” There was a fanatical gleam in her eye.

“Hey!” An alarmed Titu sat up. “Does that mean…?”

Lovely gave him a pitying look. “Relax. You only need to play along for the next two months or so. I’ll manage after that.”

“Why don’t you talk this out with your parents?” Sonu was curious.

“Don’t you know?”

“What?”

“My parents died in a road accident when I was 14 years old. I was put in the hostel. When I completed schooling I came to Delhi and have been living with my grandparents.” She said in an emotionless monotone. “Now that grandfather has had a stroke and Dadi isn’t keeping well either, they want to marry me off and fulfill that last obligation.”

“That does make sense.” Titu came to life. “You should get married. How will you cope alone when your Dada Dadi…?”

“Why?” objected Sonu, “She has her Uncle and Aunt doesn’t she? She can stay with them.”

“Why do I have to stay with somebody?” Lovely cut in.

They stared at her. “But…”

“Do you stay with anybody?” She asked Sonu.

“No. But…”

“Yeah.” Nodded Lovely. “But you are a MAN right? You can do ANYTHING!” She was seething. “While I have to stay under somebody’s protection.”

“It is for your own safety.” Titu said.

“Yeah right.” Lovely fumed.

“Is that why you are dressed so…so,” he searched for a word which wouldn’t sound offensive, “conservatively? To scare the groom away?”

“Dress?” She looked down upon herself. “What’s wrong with my dress?” She smacked herself on the head. “Oh sorry I forgot! You are broadminded people,” she jeered, “You don’t mind if a barely covered bride-to-be shakes a leg uninhibitedly in front of a crowd which includes her grandfather-in-laws and uncle-in-laws ogling her unabashedly do you?”

“To which era do you belong?” It was Sonu’s turn to sneer. “Eighteenth century? He clicked his fingers. “Snap out of it. This is the twenty-first century and nobody cares about such things. It’s prudish people like you with old-fashioned sensibilities that drag women down.” He shook his head and snorted. “And you want to be an IAS officer. To do what? Put women back into the purdah?”

“Twenty-first century is it?” Lovely refused to back down. “Don’t you want a good sanskari traditional bahu who will serve the family, bind the family, take care of everybody?”

“Of course!” Sonu defended, “Just like you would want a decent guy who would look after you and your family. That won’t change and should not change.”

“Oh please!” Lovely threw up her hands in disgust. “Which Utopian era do you belong? All that is required from the groom is that he be ready to ‘lend’ his name to her. In return, she has to sacrifice everything, if need be, her own life for his family.”

“What rot!” Sonu protested hotly.

“Is it?” Lovely leaned back into her chair. “Over a hundred years ago, Guru Rabindranatha Tagore wrote a story Punishment.”

“Yeah so?”

“You’d be surprised at how little if anything has changed since then.”

“Okay so what’s this story about?” Titu was interested despite himself.

“The story is set in deep rural Bengal and is about two poor brothers who are farmers – Dukhiram and Chidham.” Lovely dove into the story without any further ado. “They are married to Radha and Chandra respectively. Lovely drained her cup. “Chandra is about 17 or 18 years of age, is pretty and willful. Chidham too is handsome and has a roving eye. He often stays out nights without bringing any earnings, which irks his wife. She retaliates by going out often to the riverside and praising another man. Chidham doesn’t like it and abuses her verbally and physically. The next day she disappears to her uncle’s home, few villages away. Chidham could bring her back only after a lot of effort and pleadings.”

Sonu laughed. “Yes! Nothing has changed. She still does that and the poor husband has to dance to her tunes.”

Lovely rebuked him with her eyes and continued. “He has a love-hate relationship with his wife and obsesses about her. Because of her, he is so disturbed and restless that he fantasizes about her death, which could perhaps give him some peace.”

Sonu exchanged a knowing glance with Titu and raised his hand for a high-five. “Poor husband. I do feel for him. You are right! Again nothing has changed.” They laughed.

Lovely ignored them. “Radha and Chandra too don’t get along very well and neighbors are quite inured to their loud arguments and fights.”

The boys chortled and went for another high-five.

Lovely rolled her eyes. “That was the background of the story. The actual incident is about the day, the two brothers return home after a particularly unproductive day hungry and tired. The house is deathly silent. It is evident that things have been pretty bad between the two ladies today. Ignoring them, Dukhiram asks his wife to serve him food. Radha snaps at him and taunts him if she was supposed to go out and earn money for his food as well. Blind with rage, Dukhiram raises his sickle and kills her.”

“Oh!” Sonu sat up. “A sting in the tale!”

“Radha falls down beside Chandra spattering her with blood. Chandra opens her mouth to scream but Chidham claps a hand over her mouth. He doesn’t want anyone to know what has happened. It was dark. Perhaps no one would get to know. Perhaps they could dispose of the body.” Her voice rose and fell with Chidham’s thoughts. “And perhaps that’s what would have happened if a neighbor hadn’t decided to drop in at that moment to collect his dues.”

“What happened then?” Titu too was sucked in.

“The neighbor is naturally shocked to see the bloody scene and demands an explanation. Chidham falls at his feet and confesses, “Chandra killed her. Please save her.”

“What does Chandra say to that?”

“Nothing. She is too shocked to say anything. The neighbor, inured and witness to their daily fights, also a lawyer by profession, accepts it and says, “Tell the police that Dukhiram asked for food and she refused that’s why he got angry and killed her. We can get your brother off the hook. Don’t worry.”

Sonu looked at Titu and whistled.

Lovely raised an eyebrow. “Ironical isn’t it?” she gave a bitter laugh. “The truth shall set you free.”

“That’s it? That’s the story?” Sonu asked. “I don’t see the relevance,” he complained.

“No.” Lovely shook her head. “There’s more. Do you know what Chidham response was to this suggestion?”

“What?” they asked.

“Chidham said,” Lovely paused for dramatic effect, “I can get another wife but how can I get another brother?”

There was silence.

“Lovely!” It was her aunt calling.

“Coming Chachi.” She got up. “Can you see the parallels?”

Sonu exchanged glances with Titu and slowly shook his head.

It’s not about who is right and who is wrong,” Lovely said pointedly looking at Titu who flushed as he recalled his words to Sweety after she had garlanded him. “Isn’t that what you said in the twenty-first century? Clearly nothing has changed in the past one hundred years. What if Sweety was right and Sonu wrong?” She gave a bitter laugh. “But that is not important is it? What matters is that Sonu is your friend and you will support him in whatever he may have done – right or wrong. In all things, she is still comes a distant nobody on his list of priorities.” She walked away.

***

Click here for Chapter 4: An Unfinished Story

 

Sonu aur Titu ki Lovely – II

Click here for Chapter 1: A Lovely Noose

Chapter 2: A Lovely Surprise

Sonu flicked another glance at the girl. “But you have to admit there are advantages of having a like this girl as your wife. She would be only too grateful to be marrying anyone, leave aside someone so handsome as you, not to mention well off as well.” He clapped his friend on the back. “And she won’t say much either if you have interests elsewhere.” He winked.

“But what about my reputation? What will everybody say when they see my wife is a behenji?”

“Relax Titu! Why worry when Sonu is here? Let’s play along until it’s time to pull the rug and get rid of the girl.” He grinned. “Sweety was one hell of a teacher – she gave me some pretty neat ideas.”

“What are you two boys doing standing over there in one corner and gossiping like girls?” Dadi called. “Come and meet Lovely.”

At the meeting venue after the initial rounds of niceties, a round of tea and snacks, Mrs. Sharma set the ball rolling. “Let the children get to know each other.” As everyone nodded, she added, “Sonu you also go along.” She smiled. “You don’t mind do you Lovely beta?” she asked the girl who dumbly shook her head.

“So your name is Lovely?” Sonu cursed himself for the inane remark. But he was rather short on inspiration and pressured to break the escalating silence and disdainful disapproval emanating from the girl. What business had she to look down upon them?!

“My name is Jigyasa but I asked too many questions and wasn’t beautiful enough so my granny changed my name to Lovely.” She met Sonu’s look of surprise calmly enough. “Are your names actually Sonu and Titu?”

Sonu coughed, “My name is Sudarshan and his name is Trilokpati.”

Lovely’s eyes gleamed through her thick spectacles, “The Master of the Three Worlds,” it was her turn to cough (or was it to smother a giggle?), “but not mine.”

They stared blankly at her.

“Why are you both so surprised?” She asked aggressively in contrast to her demure cat-got-my-tongue look earlier. “Oh I get it,” she nodded, “I am so plain and ugly that I would be grateful and ready to marry any man. Even if he looks panic stricken at the thought of being tied to me for the rest of his life and his best friend is already plotting ways to get rid of me.”

Sonu opened his mouth but no words came out of it. Titu didn’t even try to speak.

“Why don’t we sit?” She waved to the comfortable lawn chairs under a colorful umbrella. “Should we order something?” She asked as the waiter hovered obsequiously in the background.

They shook their heads.

She raised a hand, “Three cups of tea and one plate pakoras.” She turned to the boys. “Paneer or mixed?” The cat had got their tongues. She sighed and said, “Two plates, one of each.”

She looked at them with a gleam in her eye.

“What’s so funny?” Huffed Sonu.

“If only you could see your faces,” Her lips twitched.

“So you were pulling our legs?” Sonu was on shaky ground. He couldn’t even decide whether that was better or not.

Lovely sobered and shook her head. “No. I am serious.” She paused. “I have no intentions of marrying you or anyone else. But,” she looked at them sternly, not unlike their 4th grade Hindi teacher, Mrs Dandona, “we won’t tell the others just yet.”

“Why not?” Sonu asked suspiciously.

“I have my reasons.” She said shortly.

“And why should we go along with you?” Sneered Sonu.

“Because if you don’t,” her lips thinned and her eyes narrowed (Mrs Dandy for sure!) “I will marry Titu.”

“Not if I can help it,” snapped Sonu immediately on the defensive.

Lovely looked at him pityingly. “You are a glutton for punishment aren’t you?”

He frowned. “What do you mean?”

“Didn’t you learn anything from your run in with Sweety?”

They gaped at each other. “You know?!”

“Every sweet little detail, down to the tiny mole near Sweety’s belly button.” Her lips curled.

“Who are you?” An all too familiar sinking feeling enveloped Sonu. It was déjà vu. He stood up with his fists clenched. “Who sent you? Sweety?” He hissed.

“Relax!” Lovely rolled her eyes. She sat back as the waiter returned with their order. “Mmm hot sweet tea and crispy pakoras, what more can one want right? Go on dig in.” she urged before busying herself with the steaming goodies.

“Tell us,” Sonu bit out, “Otherwise…” he put a hand on Titu’s shoulder and stood up.

“So how’s it going?” Sonu and Titu turned around in surprise. Ghastiram stood there with a benign expression on his face. “Ah pakoras!” He reached out and helped himself to one. “Why are you boys standing?” He asked. “Urgent call of nature?” He laughed at his own joke. “Sit down, sit down.” he urged Titu.

“Please sit Dadaji,” Lovely got to her feet. “Please have a cup of tea.”

“No thanks beta.” He put his hand on her head in blessing. “You know Titu, Lovely is a very sweet girl.” He cast her an affectionate glance. “I’ve heard nothing but praises from everyone.” He patted her head “So warm and giving. And very mature and understanding.” He patted Titu. “Since she is my chuddi-buddy’s granddaughter, I didn’t want to keep her in the dark about anything. That’s why I told her all about Sweety and Pihu and,” he shook his finger at him, “you better tell her all about any other girl whom you may have had in your life. Best to start on a clean slate.” He took another pakora. “Carry on.” He said genially and moved away.

“He told you about Sweety?!” Sonu whistled.

“I don’t believe this!” Titu wore a dazed look, “Dadaji told you about the mole near Sweety’s belly button?”

Lovely shook her head. “No. He gave me all the wedding ceremony videos, including the jaymala.” She paused. “He wanted me to take an informed decision.” There was a faint note of incredulity in her voice. And a sneer.

“Oh so that is why you don’t want to marry Titu? Not that he’s desperate to marry you.” He exchanged a glance with Titu. “As if anybody could be.” He completed under his breath.

But she heard.

She stiffened and her lips twisted. “That suits me fine.” She looked at them with defiance. “I have no desire or intention to get married.”

Sonu relaxed. He reached out and took a pakora. “So why did you agree to come today?”

***

Click here for Chapter 3: A Lovely Story

 

Sonu aur Titu ki Lovely – I

A couple of weeks ago, I watched this year’s sleeper hit Sonu ke Titu ki Sweety, a well-made and enjoyable film. Yet, the misogynist core (and the cringe-worthy picturization of the otherwise peppy songs) was rather jarring and hence this sort of sequel to the movie. But I hope it also works as a standalone story, which as usual became longer than I intended it to be. Hope you will be (as usual) be kind enough to accompany me on this journey as well – a five six part story (so far!)

Chapter 1: A Lovely Noose

The entire gang had gathered in the sprawling drawing room at Ghasitaram’s behest. Unlike his earlier devil-may-care attitude, the Sweety fiasco had made him realize the importance of the kind of person who was going to be his grandson’s wife. That Sweety hadn’t even been married to Titu and she had already cleared the kitchen of his staple non-vegetarian diet and got her talons on the family coffers had given him the jitters.

“This time there will be no mess ups,” he declared, “for I will choose the girl.” He shook his finger at his grandson Titu and practically brother Sonu, “You boys better watch your step. I don’t want any hanky-panky.”

“Yes,” agreed the beleaguered Titu, “Sonu, this time you better not mess up,” warned Titu, “I’ve had enough of these roller coaster relationships, I really do want to settle down.”

“What?” Sonu was incredulous. “I don’t believe this! Are you blaming me for your woes? How is it my fault that you always manage to attract the wrong sort of girl?”

“But you are the one who created all the drama,” Titu’s mother handed him a cup of tea. If only you hadn’t put a spoke in the wheels, today Titu would have been married and I would have had grandkids on my knees.”

“But for me,” jeered Sonu, “you all would be out on the streets and Titu would be playing nanny to someone else’s child. Come on Mummy, who has a kid within three months of their wedding?”

“You know what I mean,” Mrs. Sharma was unfazed. “Don’t leave everything until the last minute. Speak up well in advance. We are modern family with a progressive outlook, but still it is embarrassing to have our son’s wedding called off during the jayamala ceremony.” She looked at the two boys. “You have no idea of the kind of snide remarks and comments I have had to deal with since then.”

“Not to mention all those accusations Sweety leveled at Titu. Of dowry, of initiating physical relationship on the promise of marriage and then breaking the promise, ” Mr. Sharma picked up the thread, “Only I know how I kept Titu out of jail and the court cases are still going on.”

“You don’t worry about that Uncle,” Sonu lolled about on the sofa, “The list of guys who were similarly lead on our Sweety the Great is growing longer and longer. She will be the one behind bars and very soon,” he promised.

“Yes, yes Sonu,” Titu folded his hands and bowed to him, “We are eternally in your debt but could your instincts kick in a bit earlier than for the absolutely the last minute?” He pleaded. “I still have nightmares, that I am married to Sweety. He shuddered. “This time I will see the girl only after you give the go ahead.” He clapped his friend on the back and turned to his mother. “Okay Mummy?”

“How can he do that?!” Mrs Sharma objected. “What if he likes the girl?”

“Mummy!” the boys chorused in protest.

“I saw a tele-film,” Mrs Sharma waved them into silence with a flick of the knife she was wielding, “Somebody sent his friend, who liked the girl and then he lied that the girl wasn’t good, with the intention of bumping off his friend…”

“Oh please Mummy, what awful serials you watch!” protested Titu while Sonu was up in arms, “You seriously think I’m going to steal Titu’s bride? Fine! I won’t say a word! Better still I wont come to see the girl.” Sonu got all worked up and emotional. “I won’t come for the wedding. I’ll go off to America…”

“Bye.” Ghasitaram rolled his eyes at Lalu who jerked his thumb towards the door. Ghasitaram nodded and raised his hand, “We are going tomorrow to see the girl. Whoever wants to come, can come and give their opinion otherwise hold silence forever and ever.” His eyes pierced Sonu before exiting with Lalu.

“I don’t believe this!” Sonu was frustrated, “I save you all from that controlling maniac and instead of being grateful and appreciative, everyone is blaming me? What &^&%&% nonsense!” he kicked a chair and yelped as he got hurt. He limped he away.

“We’ll wait for you tomorrow.” Dadi called. He turned to grin beatifically at her. “Only you understand my value Dadi,” he swore reaching for her feet.

“Okay okay fine fine.” She sniffed. “Be ready on time.” She waved him away.

Suited booted, primped and polished, they left the next evening for a prospective bride viewing. “I know the family very well,” Ghasitaram, informed them on the way, “Lallan and I were in school together and would have been in the same college also but for the Partition.” He looked at Titu and Sonu, “We were like you too, inseparable.” He sighed. “We met again after decades at the hospital where he is admitted.”

“Haww,” Mrs. Sharma commiserated. “What happened? Hope nothing serious?”

Ghasitaram shook his head. “Things look bleak. He’s had stroke and he’s paralyzed from one side. His wife is also a patient of diabetes and high blood pressure. They are worried about their granddaughter and her marriage and want to make sure everything is settled before any eventuality.”

“So you offered my grandson as a sacrifice?” Dadiji snorted.

“It’s not like that,” Ghasitaram denied, “I’d stake my life on my friend Lallan and I’ve met the girl. She is biddable, decent, polite and well mannered.”

“A killjoy for sure,” mumbled Sonu to Titu under his breath, “and boring.”

“Yeah I want to party have fun and enjoy with my wife not sit and read the newspaper while she shells peas,” Titu grumbled.

“Life is not only about partying and enjoying,” Mrs. Sharma said, “it’s about settling down, taking responsibility and you like matar paneer don’t you?”

“Uff Mummy please!” both Sonu and Titu groaned. She laughed and shook her head. “You know what the problem with you boys is?”

They shook their heads. “You don’t know what you want in life. No matter how modern you may pretend to be, ultimately everyone wants a wife who will sit and shell peas for you.”

“Right.” Ghasitaram agreed. “Partying is for girl-friends.”

“Exactly why I didn’t get married,” Lalu kaka added.

“Don’t lie,” Ghasitaram leaned towards him, “you didn’t get married because she wouldn’t have you.”

“Shush!” Lalu kaka cast a pleading glance at his long time friend and brother-in-law.

Ghasitaram smirked.

“Oops!” muttered Sonu to Titu and hung back letting the others move on ahead. “Quite a contrast from your kind of girl isn’t she?” He surveyed the prospective bride as she went through the traditional motions and decorous greetings from the safe distance.

Titu seemed tongue-tied as he stared at the girl.

“Lovely is not so lovely eh? In fact, quite the frump.” He nudged Titu. “And you are already besotted? Snap out of it man!” He rolled his eyes. “At least get to know her first.”

Titu shook his head. “That’s your department. I just want to settle down with whoever you give your thumbs up to.”

“That’s crazy!” Sonu protested.

“Is it?” Titu asked.

Sonu looked away guiltily.

“Mummy is right. I don’t know what I want.” Titu sighed. “In any case, this time I don’t think either of us has any choice or say.”

“What do you mean?!” Sonu was taken aback.

“Mummy warned me that this meeting was just a formality. Grandpa has his heart set on this marriage and this meeting is just a formality.”

Sonu whistled. “Since when did he start taking so much interest in your marriage?”

“Grandpa apparently got the jitters when Sweety cut off the kebab and chicken from home. Ever since then he’s been having nightmares of my future wife cutting off his daaru and kicking Lalu kaka out of our home.”

“Serve the old geezer right,” Sonu snickered. “If I hadn’t spoken up in time,” Sonu said in self-congratulatory tones, “this is exactly what would have happened. Mark my words.”

Titu nodded glumly. “This time he declared he wasn’t going to let any girl but the one of his choice to enter his house.” He took another look at the overdressed, caked slightly plumpish girl wearing a thick oily plait. “You think I could ever be besotted with that…that…” words failed him. He looked reproachfully at his friend. “You don’t know me at all if you think this is my ‘besotted’ expression. I was just trying to imagine myself tied to this woman for the rest of my life.” He shuddered.

****

Click here for Chapter 2: A Lovely Surprise